Thursday, July 26, 2007

The world is my oyster (card)*

Evan had an appointment with his asthma specialist at 6:30 p.m. tonight. The doctor's office is almost halfway across the city, and I'd assumed that we would just take a cab there as usual. But I completely forgot to book the car early in the day, and when I finally thought to make the call at 5:30, I waited on hold for 20 minutes only to be told that there were no cars available. I now had 40 minutes until we were expected to arrive and no one was even answering the phone at my backup minicab company. Clearly, if I wanted to get us to this appointment, I was going to need to be a bit more proactive.

Out of the flat I ran, dragging my annoyed children, a stroller and my battered old A to Z street map. Studying the Tube map as we half-jogged, I steered us toward a local station. Wuss that I am, I had never actually taken my kids on the Tube without another adult before. This would have been uncharted territory even if I'd had half a clue where the heck I was going. No time to think about that now.

Despite our collective inexperience, the kids sensed and responded to my determination, and I was delighted to find that we were a well oiled travel machine. Down the steps with Evan's folded stroller on my back and both kids following cheerfully. Down the escalators with their hands in mine. Onto a train. Two stops and out. The line that I had intended to transfer to was experiencing delays, so I decisively announced that we'd just be walking from there. Up the escalators, hands in mine. Up the stairs, all in a line. Into the stroller went Evan as Julia and I commenced our half-jog down Marylebone Road. I turned my A to Z upside down (the only way I can follow a map is if it's facing the same way I am), consulted it briefly as we waited at intersections and forged ahead in what I prayed was the right direction.

We arrived at the doctor's office only 2 minutes past our allotted appointment time. The doctor saw us nearly immediately, pronounced Evan to be in good health and sent us on our way. I could have tried to call the cab company again and maybe lucked into a ride home, I suppose, but by now I was in the groove. Into a nearby station. One stop over and then a line change. Up and down stairs and escalators, kids by my side, stroller on my back, confidence soaring. Onto our last train, which would take us to a bus stop where we could catch a lift very nearly to our front door.

I beamed with pride as I looked down at my fellow travelers, who had handled the journey with such finesse and street savvy. Why had I waited so long to take my kids on the Tube by myself? This was a snap. They knew what to do and I knew what to do. We were Londoners now, through and through, I thought proudly.

And then, as the kids and I rode out the remainder of our journey, I happened to glance up at the Tube map posted above my head. I studied this detailed depiction, which had been designed to highlight only this section of the Underground's extensive network, for a moment and was pleased to have visual confirmation that we were headed in the right direction. I was just starting to look away when something caught my eye. And there, looking closer at the map, I saw my error. I had completed the walk-Tube-transfer-Tube-bus thing like a near pro, yes. But a true pro would probably have known that there was direct route from point A to point B which would have cut out more than half the steps in my journey. We had just done a giant half-circle around a short, straight shot.

Have I mastered this city? I was almost ready to think so for a few minutes this evening, but apparently I'm not there just yet. I'm damn close, though. And the high I got from my near mastery leads me to believe I'll close that gap in no time. I wonder where the kids and I should venture out to tomorrow...


* Am I dumbing things down too much or shedding some much-needed light on this post title if I mention that refillable Tube payment passes are known as Oyster Cards?

7 Comments:

Anonymous Kristy said...

For the decidedly American component of your readership, you're most certainly shedding light with your last ** comment. Ahh.

I love me some maps...

12:37 AM  
Blogger Steph said...

Shedding light, definitely. Good job on the navigation with two kids! I'm always proud when I accomplish something new with two kids in tow, too.

1:34 AM  
Blogger Liesl said...

Wow, necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Way to go, you guys!

And why is it called an Oyster card??

2:31 AM  
Blogger denzylle said...

http://journeyplanner.tfl.gov.uk/user/XSLT_TRIP_REQUEST2?language=en

is useful if you have the time to plan in advance. You can choose combinations of tube / bus / train, etc.

Personally, I hate the Oyster cards. As someone who is used to jumping on and off Routemasters at the lights, I might take six bus hops to get from A to B (because it's quicker than waiting for the one that goes all the way). I resent that you pay for each of those six hops with an Oyster, so I use a weekly (or daily or monthly) Travelcard which allows me any number of journeys for a flat rate. I just hope Mayor Ken doesn't phase them out before we can phase him out of office.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Ginger said...

I know you felt empowered though even with the mistake. Now you've done it and it will be so much easier the next time. And I'm right there with you on turning the map upside down.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Sheridan said...

Oyster cards are the bane of my existence! I have gone through 6 in just under 12 months. I think they might be allergic to me.
Apparently they are a copy of the Octopus system in Hong Kong, hence the name I guess.
Go out and conquer the tube! And fine work - getting there and back with 2 kids!

7:23 AM  
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